A major project planned around the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway could create up to 25 jobs and act as a catalyst for other tourism-related development across the Mid North.

The vintage railway's announcement comes as Kawakawa prepares to celebrate 150 years of rail — the oldest in the North Island — with a steam weekend starting today.

Spokesman Frank Leadley said the railway trust, together with the Far North District Council and the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, was in the final stages of applying to the Government's Provincial Growth Fund for what he described as ''one of the most significant developments for the Mid North in a very long time''.

The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway has built a replica of the North Island's first passenger carriage, Moa, which will be put into service this Friday. Photo / supplied
The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway has built a replica of the North Island's first passenger carriage, Moa, which will be put into service this Friday. Photo / supplied

The project, if approved, would include two steam engines, two carriages and a significant building development at Kawakawa railway station; a railway and cycleway terminus at Colenso Triangle, near Opua, with a cycle shop, café, showers and toilets, electric car charging facilities, turntable and water tower, restored wetlands and parking.

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The third part of the project would involve restoring the historic railway line between Taumarere and Opua together with a permanent cycleway. At present that section of the cycle trail is on top of the old railway.

The railway trust's portion of the application was about $8 million but the cycleway costs had yet to be finalised. The total would be well over $10m.

The application included the $300,000 needed to get a new boiler built for Gabriel, the trust's out-of-action steam locomotive. Leadley hoped the application would be submitted in mid to late November.

The idea was to build on the growth of tourism in Northland to link the railway, cycle trail, Opua Marina, Kawakawa's Hundertwasser Park, Kawiti Caves, the steam ferry being restored in Kerikeri, and other attractions as far away as Hokianga.

The project's business case had been peer reviewed and endorsed, Leadley said.

Once complete the project would provide up to 25 jobs and act as a catalyst for other developments, creating a "great economic boost" for Northland.

■ The Vintage Railway Steam Weekend starts on today with the unveiling of Moa, a 12-seater replica of Kawakawa's first passenger carriage. With the trust's own steam locomotive, Gabriel, still awaiting a new boiler, the Whangārei Steam and Model Railway Club has loaned its wood-fired steam locomotive to pull Moa on short trips. Diesel engines will offer four trips a day to Taumarere while the Kawakawa carriage shed will be open from 10am-4pm, Friday to Sunday, so train buffs can check out the restoration projects under way.

Kawakawa celebrates 150 years of rail

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The first railway in the North Island was a horse-drawn tramway built in 1868 to haul coal from the mines in Kawakawa to Derrick Landing, where it was transferred onto barges and taken downriver to the port at Opua.

The first steam locomotive in the North Island, Puffing Billy, was built in Scotland to carry coal from Kawakawa's mines. Photo / supplied
The first steam locomotive in the North Island, Puffing Billy, was built in Scotland to carry coal from Kawakawa's mines. Photo / supplied

The horses were replaced in 1871 by Puffing Billy, a Scottish-built steam locomotive. Later that year a 12-seater carriage was added and the North Island's first passenger rail service began.

The railway line was extended to Opua in 1884. The Opua branch railway was used for freight until 1985, when it was leased to the Bay of Islands Scenic Railway for tourist trains.

That was shut down in 2000 when the Long Bridge was deemed unsafe and the line fell into disrepair. Since 2003 the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway has been working to fully restore the line, raising $5 million so far.